Permaculture at U.S. Universities – UMass Amherst Case Study
Ryan Harb gave this 1-hour talk at the Tenth International Permaculture Convergence (IPC10) in the Wadi Rum desert in southern Jordan in September 2011. Here’s a little background to get you interested:
UMass Amherst transformed a 1/4 grass lawn on campus into a thriving, abundant, permaculture garden during the 2010-2011 academic year. Learn how this student-led project can be easily replicated and spread to other campuses, institutions.. any piece of land for that matter. UMass Amherst is one of the first university’s undertaking a project like this, directly on campus, and supplying the food to its dining commons.
I want to detour around Ryan’s presentation (and award- and prize-winning work) for a moment, if you can bear with me. Today I read an inspiring article about a town in the UK that is aiming to become completely self-sufficient in food by 2018 — and by the sound of it, they’re making good progress towards achieving this goal. The initiative started humbly — with a discussion between two women over a cup of coffee. Their plan for making a start was both simple and remarkable at the same time: it is a ‘revolution of kindness’. Let me explain: to inspire people to start growing their own food, they simply started growing food in beds around the town, and encouraged people to help themselves to the produce, free of charge. In addition to that, they made their own private garden plot accessible, by lowering the front wall, and getting people to help themselves there too. It’s quite unlike the self-interested, privatise-everything model that is the generally accepted norm today:
We need strong communities to weather the tough times that we believe are coming. We need to re invent the collective skills of community. People that can rise to the challenges of the future without waiting for “the powers that be” to do the thinking and acting for us.
For that we need to take risks, to learn to, not always, ask permission, to step out of comfort zones risking embarrassment or worse in order to do what we know is right and necessary.
Initiative taking, leading by doing, generosity and sharing, these are keystones.
So you will not find IET campaigning for allotments: "git orf of moi land” [translation: "get off my land"] is not us.
You will find us sharing land, looking for new ways to be giving and receiving.
There is some pain in learning to share, but a lot more to gain. This is as much a campaign about behavior change, a cultural shift, as it is about growing leeks.
So yes we worry about peak oil, and global warming but we dream of a future where we might have to work harder and live on less but have fuller lives and fuller hearts. — Incredible Edible Todmorden
Given we’re talking about thousands of plants in 70 large garden beds scattered about the West Yorkshire town of Todmorden (population around 15,000), you’d think the result might be just slightly reduced shopping bills for a few of the residents (and lots of work for the people who started the beds), but it doesn’t seem to be ending that way so far. Today many Todmordians are on the fast-track of increasing their own self-sufficiency, creating their own garden plots after experiencing the good examples that had been set out across town for them to emulate. In short, people are starting to grow their own!
Today, hundreds of townspeople who began by helping themselves to the communal veg are now well on the way to self-sufficiency.[…]
Similar schemes are being piloted in 21 other towns in the UK, and there’s been interest shown from as far afield as Spain, Germany, Hong Kong and Canada. And, this week, Mary Clear gave a talk to an all-party group of MPs at Westminster. — Daily Mail
Now, what has all this to do with an IPC presentation on permaculture demonstration sites at U.S. universities? Well, it’s fascinating to me that we look in wonder when we see a town striving towards self-sufficiency in food, when this was the norm a mere century ago. Before the age of mass transit, it was generally the case that if you didn’t grow your own, you didn’t eat. And, people generally didn’t learn these skills in a school — it was taken-for-granted knowledge gained at home, passed from generation to generation. Today most of us are unable to get this knowledge from our parents, as our parents are often just as out of touch with natural systems as we are. The goals of the Todmorden two — that of localised self-sufficiency — need to be achieved, and needs to become the norm again, and what better way to do so than to have permaculture demonstration sites, and training, at schools and universities scattered over the world’s climate zones? Growing our own food, and sustainably, is such a basic need, how can it possibly be left out of our educational systems — particularly when we’re heading into an era of energy and thus food shortages? The nice folk in Todmorden would find their ambitions realised even easier and faster if everyone graduating from schools in the district knew a thing or two about how to make best use of land and resources, wouldn’t they?
I must express my appreciation and respect for the work of Ryan Harb and his UMass permaculture team. Influencing education to create people who are tooled up for the actual future ahead of us (in contrast to persevering with ‘educating’ our youth for a world that was, and never will be again…) is critical, and when these appropriately-educated graduates take their skills to their respective home-towns I hope the Todmorden example, and other transition initiatives, will inspire them with models they can build upon and improve yet further.